Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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What's Your North?

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

It's a basic question of being-in-space: where do you face?

Orientation. The word itself documents the immemorial tendency of both Indo-European and Semitic cultures to face East.

Qibla (“direction”) is the Arabic word, and in Islam has come to mean specifically towards Mecca. (Qibla ultimately comes from the same Proto-Semitic root as Qabala, lit. “received,” but there's no real connection.) In Old Craft we say “North,” because the Old One sits in the North and that's the default, well, North.

Norths vary from tradition to tradition, of course. Eastern Orthodox churches are still laid out so that the altar (and hence direction of prayer) is due east. Jews pray toward Jerusalem. Zoroastrians pray facing fire or, failing that, some other light source. Yezidis face the Sun when they pray.


When I was in high school we lived in Erie, PA, where the North—both literally and figuratively—was the Lake, that great, brooding presence. When you gave directions, it was always with reference to the lake. Erie was a constant partner, seen or unseen, in every moment of daily existence. There's something very pagan, very right about that.

I tend to be uncomfortable in any given landscape without a North. I felt this way visiting a friend in the Bay Area; I find it hard to pray without a direction. Finally I settled on Mount Tamalpais as the most prominent feature in the landscape. After that, I was fine.

Pagans often face something when we pray: an image or icon, say. Portable Norths, you could call them. When I was studying at Hebrew University, my room didn't seem like home until it had a North, a directionality. There simply wasn't space for an altar anywhere—the room was barely larger than the bed I slept in—so I tucked a postcard of a goddess figurine from the Hebrew Museum into the corner of the mirror on the wall, and that was enough to do the trick.

Idolatry in Jerusalem, bwa ha. It doesn't get much better than that.

Different gods, of course, have their own Norths. In this landscape, our weather comes from the West, so when I'm addressing Thunder, that's where I face.

Contemporary Western culture, child of the magnetic compass, tends to the a North-facing culture and, as said, this accords just fine with traditional Old Craft practice. As a tribe, we're so often out of synch with what goes on around us, that it's refreshing actually to be in step with the over-culture for a change.

Norths vary, but that's not the point. To quote Cei Serith, one of modern Pagandom's deeper thinkers: It isn't where you stand, it's where you face.

What's your North?




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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


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